Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

Category: Dungeons & Bookdragons Page 1 of 7

Let’s tear down the tower of Babel

Babel, Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution by R.F. Kuang, published 23 August 2022. Yes, the title is a mouthful, but in keeping with the story and definitely one of the reasons I wanted to read this dark academia alternate history/historical fantasy.

The tower of Babel, the heart and centre of the Royal Institute of Translations, is also at the heart of this fictional early Victorian era story. Like the TARDIS it is bigger on the inside, housing more than eight floors of libraries, laboratories and lecture rooms. It is the centre of silver-working, engraving translations into bars of silver to cover all aspects of a certain word or topic, so that nothing gets lost in translation, for magical effect.

The story is told from the POV of Robin Swift, who is a half-Chinese orphan brought to Britain by Professor Lovell, a member of Babel, when he was about ten years old. He’s been learning languages since to prepare him for enrolling at Oxford University.

At Babel, Robin learns that silver-working is Britain’s main tool for its industrial revolution and imperial expansion. Which is why the secret society Hermes is trying to tear down Babel, because it enables the British Empire to keep colonising and exploiting other countries. That Hermes is doing so at all costs, resolving to violence, is what makes Robin waver about whether he’s doing the right thing over and over. What is Robin willing to sacrifice for the greater good? Will he resort to violence or find a different way to stop Babel?

What I liked about the book is that despite it being a dense read, it is a page-turner. It was easy for me to get immersed in the story and sympathise with the characters. The writing is easy to follow and I enjoyed reading every footnote and agreed with Kuang’s assertions about translations and the hard work of linguists.

Yet, the main message of the book, colonisation is bad, made for a tough read from about the half-way point of the book. It is being ham-fistedly hammered home at every opportunity and I found myself rolling my eyes more and more often.

Furthermore, and this is already hinted at in the subtitle, Hermes doesn’t shrink back from the use of violence. Violence that would be seen as terrorism these days. I’m not a big fan of ‘the ends justify the means,’ which is why it took me nearly two weeks to actually finish the last part of the book. This is not due to the writing suddenly lacking, it is just because the questions Robin faces and the decisions he faced made me uncomfortable. However, that was supposed to be the book’s purpose, to make you think while enjoying a good story.

3/5 Harpy Eagles

Quick ARC Reviews – November 2022

If This Book Exists, You’re In The Wrong Universe, by Jason Pargin.

This is the fourth book in the John Dies at the End series. All the other books in the series were written under Pargin's pen name David Wong, who is also the main character of the stories. 

Like the three other books in this series, this book can be read as a standalone. Reading the other books in the series, in order or not, won’t help with that feeling of “what the … am I reading here?” It's a bonkers wild ride with aliens and magical soy sauce and parasites and a magical egg that demands human sacrifices and ...

In other words, a novel where you have to trust that the author knows what they were doing and go with the flow. 

4/5 Harpy Eagles


The Conductors (Murder and Magic book 1) by Nicole Glover, published 02 March 2021.

I liked the idea of the story, Underground Railroad conductors turned detectives, and there is magic involved. Sadly, I didn’t like the way the story was told. 

Too many characters are introduced at the beginning of the story and they all lacked backstory, so keeping up with who was who was difficult. 

The magic system is not well explained. It’s not clear what makes a magic holder and how exactly the magic works. All I understood was that constellations are used as sigils and those make up a spell. 

The mystery is interesting, but since there was too much telling, via dialogue between the two main characters Hetty and Benjy, it was not very engaging. 

This speculative fiction woven into a historical fiction story was not for me. Still, I am hoping the next books in the series are better. 

3/5 Harpy Eagles


The Immortality Thief by Taran Hunt, published 11 October 2022.

This is the story of that quirky side-character who seems to always stumble into situations without ever having had the ambition to be a hero. Alas, he's about to become the hero he never wanted to be and here is his story. 

There is a thousand year old space ship about to be sucked into a supernova. Sean Wren, refugee, criminal, linguist, and FTL pilot, and two other felons are offered a pardon when they rescue important data about the Philosopher's Stone from the space ship before it goes up in flames. What's supposed to be a quick job soon turns into alien encounters, sociopolitical debates and a rather predictable outcome. 

I liked the short chapters and the chapter titles. I did not enjoy the 600+ pages of the book. The story could have been told in half the page-count. 

3/5 Harpy Eagles


Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree, first published 22 February 2022, US publication 10 November 2022.

TheMarquessMagpie wrote a wonderful review about this book earlier this year. You can find it here. I agree wholeheartedly. 

This book is like a hot mug of coffee and a warm cinnamon roll on a blustery autumn day. Simply delicious, heart-warming soul-food. 

5/5 Harpy Eagles

Nettle & Bone

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Well actually, kind of a bird…. It‘s the MarquessMagpie crawling out of her hole to finally write a review again.

Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher started out as my bedtime e-book, but grabbed me enough that it got promoted to my “main book“ pretty quickly. I think I picked it up after hearing about it on All the Books.

I would say it‘s a fairytale for people who are sick of them. Let me show you the ingredients that make this story special:

  • The princess: Marra is not sweet 16, but 30 and not the least interested in marrying. Instead, she‘s great at needlework and out for revenge.
  • The prince: Well, he‘s not the charming kind at all. He married both of Marra‘s sisters, killed the first one and abuses the second one. So of course we set out to kill him.
  • The gravewitch: While being a weapon all by herself, she‘s got a demon chicken and she‘s not afraid to use it.
  • The fairy godmother: She‘s better at cursing than at blessing, but she‘s doing her best.
  • The bone dog: A story is always better with an animal sidekick, so who cares if he rattles a bit.
  • The lumberjack-type love interest they pick up along the way: I already forgot his name. Gladly, the story centers on Marra‘s quest and the group dynamics.

The timeline was a bit confusing at first, but straightened out once the gang got together. At it‘s core, it‘s a revenge quest story with some adventures along the way. What worked really well for me was Kingfisher‘s clever and snarky writing style and great group dynamics.

4/5 Magpies

The Queens of Renthia Series Review

The Queens of Renthia series by Sarah Beth Durst took me a really long time to read. I read the first book The Queens of Renthia in July 2019, and the last book in September 2022. Each time I started the next book, I regretted that it took me this long to pick it up. But with a TBR as out of control as mine, what am I to do.

The first book introduces the reader to the world of Renthia. The land is full of elemental spirits held under control by the queen. The spirits hate everything and everyone in their normal state, only caring to destroy and kill. Under the queen, they can be coaxed to reluctantly create and build. Some young inhabitants of the land who show elemental affinities can at least control the spirits to do no harm. These become pupils in academias, and the best of the lot can become heirs to the queen if they are selected by the talent-seeking champions.

The story follows Daleina, an academy student, and Ven, a former champion fallen into disgrace. Daleina’s talent is not strong, and while she is under no illusion about the strength of her elemental affinities, she has a strong will to protect and use her powers for the best. What follows is a tale full of twists and triumphs, and while you might be able to guess the ending, there is a lot to explore in the pages between.

On the cover, this seems like a typical YA story of a young, often overlooked girl rising to power, but I can assure you that it’s everything but that. All the characters have deeply layered goals and motivations, and the second and third book are as far as possible from a young adult story.

In the second book, a large part of the story follows a mother with a strong elemental affinity, who is trying to protect her family. The central parts of the story focus on the duties of motherhood, the duties a mother has to herself, and the duty she might have to her threatened country. I won’t tell more because I don’t want to spoil everything.

The third book finishes the trilogy, turning the conflicts between people and spirits, as well as the political conflicts of two countries rivalling for resources to a climax. The author does some very interesting things to twist her take on a typical story solution much further than you would expect. I really, really like what she has done during the final chapters of the book, and I cannot recommend this series more.

5/5 Ducks

Tackling the TBR

Hello. My name is TheRightHonourableHarpyEagle and I am a book addict.

That might not have needed to be pointed out, but it’s good to admit to it sometimes. I love buying books, I love hoarding books, but do I read the gems on my shelves?

This week I decided to actively read at least one book off the TBR shelf, which led me to actually read two novels by the same author, Naomi Novik.

Spinning Silver – a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin (gah, I hate the English spelling). Although I liked the Slavic touch of the story, I didn’t like the many POV in the book. Some characters were written so similar to each other that it always took me a moment to get into the story again. Also, some POV were introduced and then dropped without further notice, which made me wonder whether I had missed some pages. That and the feeling of the story of these three women somehow getting nowhere made me skim most of the second half of the story. I just didn’t care for what would happen. I might have liked the book ten years ago, but my tastes have changed. I hadn’t had the book lying around for a decade though.

I had a similarly hard time with Novik’s Uprooted. Again, I liked the Slavic fairy tale-ish background to the story, but the dragon character verbally abusing the young woman and then seemingly suddenly the two characters are head over heels in love with each other? Just didn’t gel with me.

I was wondering whether it’s the author and her writing style that I don’t like. No that’s not it. The writing is good. Actually, I’ve read the two Scholomance novels by Novik and liked them. In fact, I have the third book of the trilogy on my TBR. I’m assuming it’s the fairy tale retelling I struggle with; they don’t really work for me most of the time.

Werewolves, Walkers, Shifters,…

TJ Klune, whom most might know from The House in the Cerulean Sea, wrote a werewolf series a few years back. The first book of the Green Creek series, Wolfsong, is being re-published in September 2022. It was first published in June 2016.

It is an M/M romance like THitCS or Under the Whispering Door and at the same time it is not. It is a slow build romance like in the other books, but it is much grittier, there is gore, there is very explicit sex and the story is definitely not as whimsical as the above mentioned two.

You need to have read or seen a few werewolf stories to truly appreciate this story, because otherwise you might be put off by the power dynamic between the two ‘lovebirds’ and the proprietary behaviour, not to mention the age gap between the two MCs.

Joe and Ox meet for the first time when Joe is nearly eleven years old and Ox just turned 16. Joe’s family moved into the house at the end of the lane and Ox becomes fast friends with the three boys. He is welcomed into the family from the start, which he finds odd at first. Though when Ox later finds out that the family is a family of werewolves and learns all about werewolf packs, pack wars, Alphas, Betas and Omegas, their behaviour starts to make sense.

When Ox is 22 and Joe 17 the romance really starts. But Joe has had his eyes on Ox for years and his proprietary behaviour towards Ox might not go down with every reader. It’s a werewolf thing, or should I say it’s a theme that comes up in werewolf stories? To give Klune and his characters credit, Joe’s family is completely okay with Joe and Ox getting together. Still, Ox insists that nothing physical should happen between the two of them until Joe is 18 years old.

A lot of things go on in this book besides the romance. For one there is this nasty Omega-wolf who is attacking the pack, because he wants to be Alpha. There is violence, there are fights, people come to harm, but also packs/found families are formed.

Probably not my favourite Klune book, but definitely one that I am glad I did not pass.

3/5 Harpy Eagles

A new Spin on Vampire Books

Frankly, I never thought it was impossible to give vampire stories a new spin, but I was reasonably sure it was unlikely to happen. Until I read Sunyi Dean’s The Book Eaters, published 02 August 2022.

Our protagonist, Devon, is a mother. She’s hiding to protect her son, Cai, whom she kidnapped and ran away with two years ago. Her son has special needs. He’s always hungry. He cannot eat regular food. He has a skin condition that needs treatment. Devon, a fierce lioness protecting her cub, knows what helps her five-year-old, she has to get him humans to feed on.

Devon is a Book Eater. She is not human, but looks human. She escaped with her son from the strange customs of the Book Eater society hiding from humans in the northern parts of Great Britain. She can read, but Book Eaters cannot write. She doesn’t have a bank account, nor an ID. She and her son live on the edges of human society, always fearing they’ll be found out by the human authorities or by the Book Eaters’ knights who are hunting them.

Devon wants to take Cai away from Britain, but in order to do that she needs help, because of the limitations her origins put on her. Also, she needs a certain drug to quench Cai’s hunger that she can only get from one of the Book Eater families.

What’s Devon supposed to do? What price is she willing to pay to protect her son?

5/5 Harpy Eagles

What just happened?

The Helm of Midnight by Marina Lostetter, published 13 April 2021.

You won’t believe it, but I read a fantasy novel in nearly one go. That hasn’t happened in a very long time. What made me stick to this book?

Lostetter pulled me into this dark fantasy mystery/thriller told from opposing POV from the beginning. Yes, the world-building took some time and there were slow passages, but all in all I wanted to know how the POVs came together and how the whole story fit and would play out.

An artefact is being stolen right under the watchful gaze of one of our female lead, a regulator (let’s say some form of police). With the help of this artefact murders are committed ten years after the initial serial killer was caught and executed for his brutal crimes. How do you catch a dead murderer? How do you find out who committed the theft and is behind the recent murders when the thieves used distraction and enchantments to hide their identities?

The other POV is that of a young apprentice to a healer. This woman is very gifted at healing, far more gifted than her age might allow. How? Evidence suggests that she is involved with the current murder spree. Is she, though?

There are enchanted masks and bottled beasts. There’s PTSD and grief. There are strong female characters, friendships, family ties. There is knowledge to be found, but at what price?

A book that took me out of my fantasy-funk! I’m looking forward to reading the next instalment.

4/5 Harpy Eagles

High Fantasy, Low Stakes and a Lot of Heart

Sometimes, a book jumps into your way at just the right time. I‘ve read about Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree on Goodreads, and decided to try it to get me out of a reading slump. Gladly, I loved everything about it.

It‘s about an orc called Viv, and she‘s had enough of the adventurer life. She‘s worn out, and her back hurts. So after one last job retrieving a fabled artifact, she moves to Thune to open up a coffee shop.

She quickly gathers a lovely cast of characters around her, including:

  • Cal, a hob carpenter / handyman who helps her renovating
  • Tandri, a succubus who supports her as a barista (and also in general)
  • Thimble, a rattkin who turns out to be an amazing baker

Also, there‘s an epic direcat strolling around and protecting the premises.

Let me just say that everything about this book is lovely. There is a strong found family vibe, as Viv is building a new home against all odds. This story gave me all the warm fuzzy feelings.

Keep cinnamon rolls and coffee on hand when you are diving in, though.

5/5 Magpies

The First Law Buddyread

Say one thing for TheLadyDuckOfDoom and TheMarquessMagpie, say they enjoy the hell out of a well-written epic fantasy series. And Joe Abercrombie’s First Law series was just that.

We read the first three books as buddyreads, which really takes a lot of determination if you want to pace yourself.

The series starts of with The Blade Itself, in which our illustrous cast of characters is introduced and assembled. Here are some of them:

  • Logen Ningefingers, also called the Bloody-Nine: a humble northman haunted by his past. In Lady Duck’s estimation, he also suffers from dissociative identity disorder.
  • Sand dan Glokta, a once praised fencer, for his looks as well as his skill, he was tortured and turned into a cripple when he got captured in war. Now he serves as a torturer and investigator for the Inquisition, which is more of a police institution than religious undertaking in the Kingdom.
  • Jezal dan Luthar, the rich kid, totally loathesome. What an ass.
  • The Dogman, a named man from the north, famed for his sense of smell. It feels unlikely, but he really grows on you.
  • Ferro Maljinn, a former slave, runs on revenge plots alone. She is a force to be reckoned with.
  • Collem West, an army Major stepping up when things get difficult and dangerous. Don’t worry, he has his faults.
  • Bayaz, First of the Magi, always with a trick up his sleeve. You never know what’s up with that cheating bastard.

We spent most of the first book getting a glimpse into the lives of these characters. It‘s mainly a setup book and not a ton of stuff happens. But don‘t think that it gets boring for even a bit – we at least follow Glokta uncovering a conspiracy, after all.

Instead of suffering from a case of middle book syndrome, Before They Are Hanged turned out to be a roadtrip book. There are some very interesting character developments, and we get to know the cast a lot better. The brewing conflicts are foreshadowed very reasonably and you smell a war coming. In the 10th anniversary edition, the author’s note tells us that Abercrombie is incredibly proud of this book, and Lady Duck seconds this opinion. The middle book syndrome is expertly circumnavigated, and she laughed at the end of it.

In The Last Argument of Kings, the world is at war. New kings are crowned and need to grow into their roles very quickly. Although, do they really? There’s fighting, blood, and even more fighting. The “backwards” Northmen play quite a big part in the turn of events. The ending leaves some threads dangling, but intentionally so. The books play so well on the common epic fantasy genres, and denying the readers full closure is just another of Abercrombies tricks. Or maybe he planned more books set in this universe all along.

Overall, the series mostly deals with what it means to wield power. Who can be trusted with it? What does having a title really mean? Isn’t everybody (except one… ) just pretending to know what they’re doing and hoping for the best? Another recurring theme twists the fantasy trope of redemption arcs: sometimes, as hard as people try to be better, sometimes they can not.

The writing style was a real treat:

  • so many unexpected moments of comic relief…
  • … but still grim and bloody
  • it changes a bit with the characters (The recurring “Say one thing for Logen Ninefingers…”, “dead body found at the docks” is a recurring imagined newspaper headline in Glokta’s head after he gets into trouble)
  • some predictable plot twists and turns, but the execution is still great.

The characters feel very real. You see the bad side of every one of them. Not all of them are likeable, but all of them are captivating. I never thought I would root for a crippled torturer, but go Glokta go! Prepare yourself for some very difficult and sad death scenes – but also for a burst of joy when one absolutely loathsome character meets a very satisfying end. While the books are quite “dude-heavy”, the female characters also shine. They are morally grey, scheming and far from your classic damsel in distress.

So, I guess I really need to read all Abercrombie books now. Don’t worry, the next one (Best Served Cold) is already waiting on my shelf. Lady Duck insert: not on my shelves, oh noes. We will need to change that asap (which means summer or later, book buying ban be damned)

5/5 Birdies for each of them – still alive, still alive

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